On the importance of dissenting views

In my day job, one of the services I offer is economic impact assessments for companies, industries and economic development organizations.  One of my clients is JD, Irving as well as the forestry industry more broadly as I am asked to crunch their economic impact numbers from time to time.  This is why I either refrain from weighing in on issues related to that firm or I state my conflict of interest when I do.  I have to sell the soap to put food on the table.  This blog pays something in the area of zero.  So read this post with that caveat in mind.

I believe it is important to hear from all sides of any big policy argument whether it is on forestry policy, natural gas development policy or wind turbine policy.

There have been a number of stories quite critical of the decision by government to moderately expand the allowable cut on Crown land and I think that is good.  I know from talking to a number of people in government, the concerns of those opposed to increasing the allowable cut has been the main reason why the policy has been in flux for years.   The government has commissioned study after study from Jaakko Poyry to Erdle to Roberts and not moved on any of them.   The big forest product firms were not going to invest in future big capital expenditures without long term predictability and access to wood  (their argument) and government eventually had to decide formally one way or the other.

So, those that decry opposition to the move are well within their rights to do so but they should tread carefully when they are crapping on the media about their willingness to tell both sides of the story.

The big forestry firms in New Brunswick are small fish in the global market but in New Brunswick they are big fish and the public should be told these stories from a wide angle.

Now, I dislike mean-spirited and conspiratorial coverage – when there is limited justification.  I also dislike when the media distorts the debate in either direction but in the end I think it would be wrong not to cover – pre-decision and post-decision – the various view points on a big policy issue such as expanding access to Crown land fibre.


4 thoughts on “On the importance of dissenting views

  1. Whew, boy is that treading lightly! You don’t actually say anything about the issue. I agree with your view but its unfortunate that if you ‘crunch the numbers’ that you don’t provide any.
    The REAL story, from an economic point of view, is not that the cut has been expanded-EVERYBODY knows that was just a cave in to Irving (they presented a plan two years ago), but that its allowed to exist AT ALL. This is corporate welfare gone wild. Irving owns land, they can do what they want with it. There are private woodlot owners. There is absolutely no reason that this company should be given access to below market priced wood. Keep in mind that the government could ‘auction’ off various tracts to the highest bidder-they don’t. At least the auto industry goes back into the black after it is bailed out, this is basically admitting “we can’t make money without the public GIVING us a resource”.

    That’s quite a thing to admit and requires SERIOUS looks at the economics. For one thing, the ‘upgrades’ they plan will only take two years, that means 300 jobs per year. The upgrades include replacing 14 machines with ONE. That means the plant is more efficient, which also means they won’t need as many people to run it.
    So the net impact of jobs will be almost zero, since forestry is highly automated and expanding the woodcut won’t actually create many more jobs. To put that in perspective, I went searching on ‘job losses’ in NB, and in one month the province lost 5200 jobs. So this, almost quite literally, is nothing.

    Also, there is the bigger issue that the government uses herbicides to ensure that hardwood doesn’t grow back. THAT is just nuts from an economic and environmental point of view. Irving and the licensees literally own those forests, because they are being developed ONLY to suit them. Hardwood is obviously worth much more, and has a big impact on the ecosystem. Softwood is used so that Irving can make more toilet paper and print his crappy newspapers to people still too nostalgic to read them online.

    Finally, whether you think the cut is only moderate is pretty subjective, but most in the community have said that it ALREADY is too much. There has been considerable research on the effect of deforestation on floodplains, so in that regard New Brunswick may simply be getting what it deserves each spring. Of course, its not IRVING that pays those costs. But from what I’ve seen, it may not even be shale gas that may lose Alward the next election, but THIS. Which is ironic, because people had thought that Alward at least was smart enough to learn from Graham and not implement the most aggregious policies on the LAST year before an election.

  2. Companies expand pulp mills when they plan to grow wood that has no real economic value. On the international market the viability of these pulp mills comes increasingly into question when measured against fast-growing low-value wood from tropical regions. I expect there is a significant likelihood that, like so many Irving construction and development announcements, this current development announcement will be cancelled quietly in the future. The Crown land allocations will not change, however, and Irving will have achieved its main long-term objective of freezing out competition from higher-value wood production companies.

  3. Mikel and Stephen are correct. Again, its pretty sad that a plan being touted as being good for the province economically can be shot down so easily using nothing but economic arguments.

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